AI in Museums: Cyber and the City — Stadtmuseum Tübingen

Arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence is one of the most dis­cussed topis in soci­ety now. This is not news, but can be seen in the most diverse areas of every­day life. For example in the grow­ing num­ber of exhib­i­tions about and with AI. For our mini-series AI in museums, we vis­ited two exhib­i­tions in the imme­di­ate vicinity.

The second part of the series takes us to the Stadtmu­seum in Tübin­gen. The exhib­i­tion "Cyber and the City — Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence moves Tübin­gen" can be seen there from Feb­ru­ary 11, 2023 to Janu­ary 21, 2024.

Idea, aim and back­ground of the exhibition

The exhib­i­tion is the res­ult of a col­lab­or­a­tion between the Uni­ver­sity of Tübin­gen and the Stadtmu­seum Tübin­gen. It was developed over three semesters by twelve stu­dents of Empir­ic­al Cul­tur­al Stud­ies and 20 stu­dents of the Master's pro­gram in Machine Learn­ing, togeth­er with pro­fess­ors from both subjects.

The back­ground to the pro­ject is the struc­tur­al change tak­ing place in Tübin­gen towards becom­ing a lead­ing loc­a­tion for arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, as ini­ti­ated by the found­ing of Cyber Val­ley in 2016. This has had far-reach­ing con­sequences for soci­ety, the eco­nomy and polit­ics in and around Tübin­gen, which in turn has triggered major debates between rep­res­ent­at­ives of a wide range of pos­i­tions. The Cyber and the City exhib­i­tion aims to bring clar­ity to these debates by address­ing four fun­da­ment­al questions:

  • What is arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and how does it work?
  • What do research­ers and crit­ics of AI have to say?
  • How and with what goal is research being con­duc­ted in Tübin­gen in particular?
  • And how is this chan­ging the city and how are the dis­cus­sions tak­ing place?

The aim of the exhib­i­tion is, on the one hand, to cla­ri­fy and inform what the term arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence means and to provide space for dis­cus­sion and crit­ic­al debate.


The exhib­i­tion is divided into four parts, each of which provides answers to the four under­ly­ing ques­tions. First, the back­ground and aims of the exhib­i­tion are addressed and the impact that arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence will have on the future is gen­er­ally explained. In the next room, vari­ous people from research, polit­ics and soci­ety describe their views — pos­it­ive or crit­ic­al — on AI in short inter­views, which take place one after the other.

The second part is ded­ic­ated entirely to the tech­no­logy behind AI and is designed to explain the work­ings, lim­it­a­tions and pos­sib­il­it­ies of the tech­no­logy in a clear and under­stand­able way. To this end, the cur­at­ors have cre­ated six exhib­its, each of which inter­act­ively explains how AI works (invent­ing, cal­cu­lat­ing, sort­ing, includ­ing and exclud­ing, recog­niz­ing and learning).

In a third part, vari­ous places and insti­tu­tions in Tübin­gen that deal with AI or are asso­ci­ated with it are presen­ted. These include Cyber Val­ley, the RHET AI Cen­ter, the AI Maker­space, the Tübin­gen AI Cen­ter and the Uni­ver­sity of Tübingen.

The final sec­tion of the exhib­i­tion focuses on the dis­cus­sions that have been and con­tin­ue to be held about AI and its impact on Tübingen.

The four exhib­i­tion sec­tions are com­ple­men­ted by the art install­a­tion HumanO[i]de I Ode to Being Human by photo artist Sabine Bloch.

The Per­spect­ive on AI

Vis­it­ors exper­i­ence AI in the exhib­i­tion in two ways. On the one hand, in a descript­ive and explan­at­ory way in terms of its func­tions, lim­its and pos­sib­il­it­ies and, on the oth­er hand, in rela­tion to Tübin­gen and the changes it will bring for the city and the loc­al people.

Vis­it­ors can exper­i­ence the six AI func­tions on dis­play through inter­act­ive exhib­its. For example, the abil­ity to learn is sim­u­lated by a match­box com­puter. This con­tains tiles in the indi­vidu­al boxes that rep­res­ent moves from the game Tic Tac Toe. Using a touch­pad, vis­it­ors can now com­pete against the com­puter, which learns with each game and increas­ingly selects the moves that make it invin­cible. This exhib­it was developed by Ame­lie Schäfer and Ros­ina Bau­mann. They have also developed a match­box com­puter kit that can be rebuilt at home and the computer's learn­ing curve can be observed.

The inter­act­ive map: AI loc­a­tions in Tübin­gen shows vis­it­ors where and how wide­spread AI is already in Tübin­gen, i.e. where and in what ways it is being researched or worked on.

Vari­ous exhib­its, such as fly­ers, ban­ners, protest posters, etc., take up the protest against Cyber Val­ley and make the crit­ics' points clear to vis­it­ors, so that they are invited to form a more com­pre­hens­ive pic­ture of AI for them­selves on the basis of the inform­a­tion they have acquired and to join in the discourse.

Sci­ence Com­mu­nic­a­tion Perspective

From a sci­ence com­mu­nic­a­tion per­spect­ive, the exhib­i­tion is a suc­cess­ful example of low-threshold, descript­ive and dif­fer­en­ti­ated inform­a­tion on the top­ic of AI. The exhib­i­tion aims to provide inform­a­tion and explain the back­ground so that vis­it­ors can form their own opin­ion on AI-related struc­tur­al change in Tübin­gen at the end of their visit.

There­fore, the exhib­i­tion picks up vis­it­ors right from the start by explain­ing basic con­cepts and back­ground inform­a­tion in a clear and under­stand­able way. The second block of the exhib­i­tion on the tech­no­logy behind AI is par­tic­u­larly suc­cess­ful. The tech­no­lo­gies are explained clearly and inter­act­ively without hav­ing to resort to hack­neyed present­a­tions. The bar­ri­ers are low and both chil­dren and adults can under­stand what the indi­vidu­al exhib­its are try­ing to explain.

Of course, this low threshold has the dis­ad­vant­age that the inform­a­tion remains at a basic level and does not intro­duce the top­ic in any depth. As a res­ult, aspects of AI that would be neces­sary for a more com­plete under­stand­ing of the tech­no­logy remain unex­plored. How­ever, this is not the aim of the exhib­i­tion, but to provide basic inform­a­tion and thus break open the "black box of AI" a little, which has cer­tainly been achieved.